About Me

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North Lawrence, New York, United States
I can be described as lover of life, an animal lover, and lover of education. I am constantly striving for knowledge and learning opportunities. I've been around horses my entire life. I enjoy working with horses and their human partners through natural horsemanship philosophies, natural balance bare foot hoof care, reiki, red-light therapy, essential oils, aromatherapy, crystal healing, chromotherapy, flower essences, and more. I am a Usui Shiki Ryoho Reiki Master Teacher who offers treatments for people, horses, dogs, cats, and other creatures great and small. I also teach Reiki classes for those interested in learning how to treat themselves, their loved ones, and even their animals! Natural Horse Lover Farm is located in Northern New York between the St. Lawrence River and Adirondack Mountains. Heaven on Earth. naturalhorseloverfarm.com

Monday, September 14, 2009

Where is my horse journey going? Should I continue? Should I give up?

Whiskey's Horsenality Profile on the Day of the St. Jude's Ride...Yikes,Oye!
Whiskey's Horsenality Profile at Home (recharted this morning).

Before you start reading, please review the horsenality profiles above. Then, check out these links to other Whiskey profiles. They offer you a glimpse of what I am dealing with.

So, where is my horse journey going? Should I continue? Should I give up? Am I a failure? Do I have any talent? Do I have savvy? Can I only talk the talk but not walk the walk? Do I have the right horses? Can I, should I, am I giving up on mine? Can I put any more energy into this? These are questions that hit me hard yesterday, the thoughts, that through my tears, my dear friend Clare and my dear husband Rick, tried to help me understand.

As I type this, keeping my emotional fitness in check (aka tears) is difficult. But this post is necessary no matter how difficult. This reflection is part of the journey and an important one. It is one that demands me to be honest, logical, practical, and face realities that are not the easiest to accept. I share this with you all in hopes that if anyone else is facing a journey like mine, that you know you are not alone, are not a failure, and that it must be just another challenge we have to live through in the wonderful world of horses.
As a small background piece, for those of you who have not read the entire blog, or for those of you who don't know me in person. I've been involved with horses most of my life. I rode in horse shows (English/hunter jumper), I rode TB race horses, I rode endurance horses, I hacked around on any horse that would let me crawl up on them (often times bareback, halter and lead, or nothing at all but their mane and my balance). I was in a jumping accident about 13 years ago, destined I thought to leave horses behind, primarily out of pressure from my family, some fear, and the thought that it was all okay to give up. But then, as luck or the Universe would have it, I saw Pat Parelli (winter 2002/2003) on TV and felt hope. I found a reason to start over, and a will and strong desire to have horses back in my life (I started PNH actively in the November of 2003).

I found Fosse (April 2003), a nice LBE Arabian gelding, too young to ride, full of energy, had a heart murmur that he might grow out of, I paid $1 for him, saved him from euthanasia, and he was a wonderful addition to my yard. I love him to pieces, he is with me for life, notmatter what. Our energies are a perfect match (LBE-him/LBE ESTJ-me. Eventually and as he grew older, he was cleared to ride by several veterinarians. His heart is still functioning with the murmur but, he was otherwise deemed very fit. The caveat is that the murmur is a grade 5 and that any moment, whether being ridden or not, I may find him dead. There is nothing I can do for him but let him live. The doctors are amazed at his condition and believe that had they not heard it, the would never believe he had a condition. Just the way it is, they say to enjoy him to the fullest as he would have never had a life if I'd not taken him on. I eventually started him under saddle, bareback with a halter a lead, but to date, have only ridden him at a walk out of concern for his health (although the vet said I can do more now, so I plan to).

I acquired another horse, Whiskey (Jan 2004), a RBI Arabian gelding, not rideable yet (not started) but had potential. I was told he had special needs of a small herd , that a person with natural horsemanship-type mannerisms was best as he was a sensitive horse, and so I took him (he was free). He was an ex-A-rated halter horse, he was unable to cope with the shows and their high demands I was told. I was told by a few professionals that he was a danger to himself and others and to euthanize him, I refused to do so or believe that any horse is hopeless. So, I eventually started him under saddle too, myself, bareback, with a halter and lead (I am not saying I do this right, just what I do). We have had a complicated relationship but have made progress. We have had many successful arena and trail rides, many successes mounted and unmounted in the play ground, we have been out in public without incident! The biggest issue is that Whiskey's emotional fitness is extremely questionable and situational, he can be extreme to the point of scaring most people. Our horsenalitities/personalities are total opposites as you swa wtih the "Meeting in the Middle" post. However, I have continued to stick with him, I have a better relationship with him, but wow is he a perplexing horse.

I also acquired (rescued) a couple of other horses after Whiskey. Stella (winter 2005/2006) was an Arabian half sister to Fosse, she was rehabilitated (weight and founder) and eventually became a great lesson horse at a local farm. Wilbur my Thoroughbred (October 2005) was a wonderful partner (not without his own demons) who took me officially through level 1 and was retired and rehomed. Finally, Mini-me (March 2007), a little mini horse rescue was rehabilitated (feet) and redeveloped (level 1/2 online) and placed with a 10 year old who loves him to pieces. These three horses were never meant to stay with me, they were all rescues destined for different places in their lives, I just knew it. But, somehow, for some reason, Fosse and Whiskey have become life partners, no matter what.
So, this leaves me with these two horses, Fosse and Whiskey. One has a heart condition and the other a mental condition. I love them both. My goal for my horsemanship is to complete level 4 but I question whether or not I can do it with these two. I really don't want another horse, two works well, but I also cannot part with them which means if I get another, it will make 3. I have a dedication to them that is unmatched and I feel a responsibility to take care of them for life, I don't knwo why, I just do. That said, I suppose if the right horse (LBE, Arabian, gelding) came along, I'd consider adding a third. Fosse is perfect for me except for his heart issue. And this description of a potential third is just like him.
Okay, so much for the background information and additional editorial chatter, let's get to the crux of the blog post. I think I've been avoiding talking about the true content as it is just hard to think about and reflect on. It is hard to stay focused.
Yesterday was the St. Jude's ride. I really was looking forward to this. I worked hard on acquiring sponsor donations and could not wait to take Whiskey on the trail ride. The weather was nice, we'd meet new people, maybe even find like-minded horse people along the way. He's been on trail rides with me before with much success. I have ridden him in the saddle or bareback, but always with the rope hackamore. There have been a few times where he's been reactionary and I've had trouble but equally there have been many great successes. I thought we were ready but apparently I was terribly mistaken.
I arrived at the farm early, giving us time to settle in, play, and tack up. When I loaded him at home, he was a little resistant at first but no more than normal. I was feeling very nervous about the event and he may have felt it. I felt like he should just be fine knowing that perhaps I should be riding him more at home--but time has really been a problem.
The ride to the place was all of ten minutes. I got there, gave him a carrot through the side of the trailer but and was unable to unload him for about 10 minutes, he seemed calm, no kicking, no calling, just a quiet horse on the trailer--I was pleased and surprised. Once I unloaded him, he seemed different. He was on alert, would not take the carrot I offered him (quite unusual), and he could not look at me. Eventually he took the carrot but held it in his mouth, didn't chew it, just stood at alert with this carrot for at least 1 minute, then chomped it and ate it, looked at me as to check-in. He seemed a little better.
I didn't tie him right away out of concern about his mental state. I do use the Blocker Tie Ring (aka Aussie Tie Ring) but, I still felt uneasy about his mental state. I thought he was just going right-brained to left-brained and back again but now, after charting him, he was heading and would land smack into extreme right-brained extrovert--I didn't see it coming, not this strong and not this hard. These initial mannerism were the start of something very ugly and very dangerous to come.
Eventually, after about 20 minutes of being unloaded, I tied him to the back of my trailer. He had his hay bag (hay from home) and water bucket (water from home), both familiar things to him. I took his leg wraps off, groomed him, gave him apple treats, he liked them. I tacked him up, he seemed fine, no gupling, no kicking, nothing, just looking and asking for treats which I was happy to provide. We then went to the arena for some warm-up ground exercises. He was a little nervous heading over, trailers were pulling in, there were other horses there by now too and it was getting more and more like a horse show environment. I still felt that he and I were okay, that he got over whatever was bothering him, and we could just go play for a bit before the ride.
In the arena, I had to keep him on a 12 foot line because there were too many others around, riding and racing about. This event was not just Parelli people but all kinds of horse people with all levels of experiences and all different ideas about horsemanship--just another challenge for us. Anyhow, we played with the few obstacles in the arena, just did stuff we knew (7 games type stuff but all different variations) and he was already reactionary and spooky. he had trouble with the simpliest of tasks. This is not the horse I play with at home. My partner's mind was deteriorating more rapidly but silently (and I am not sure at the time that I identified it this way).
I saw a few horse acquaintances from the NCPPG there and so we chatted at the fence allowing Whiskey time to chill out. I noticed that the saddle pad had slipped (I was trying the new (used)Endurance saddle). I decided to tack him with my Theraflex and English saddle instead (something familiar to us both) and so my friend went to my trailer and got my saddle for me. Whiskey was fine with it, stood quietly, I re-tacked and thought, ok, he seems fine now, this is good. I left the arena and headed for the trailer. I walked with him to the outside of the arena and removed my stuff from the fence and put my extra saddle back on the saddle stand near the trailer, got out my mounting block, and contemplated mounting. I contemplated it because when we got back to the trailer area, there were many horse there, all tacked up or being tacked up. Whiskey was nervous again, but, not that bad I thought, I could do this. Anyhow, when I attempted to mount, he backed up, several times 9the latest thing he does). Eventually, when stood still, a signal that he was ready to be mounted, I got on. He was okay, stood still, flexed, I gave him treats. I asked him to walk forward (he is no longer biting me while mounted by the way) and he walked, no biting, good inplusion. We stopped, he flexed, treat, ok, we are good. We walked around the grassy area, near the arena, and I noticed he wanted to be near other horses but we had to keep our distance. I allowed him to graze instead and he was okay with it. Some horses seemed to make him more nervous than others but, we were okay.
We were waiting for the others to head down the trail (it seemed to be a long time) but, eventually they started and we went, at a walk, Whiskey and I were in the middle. He was tense and as we heard other horses coming closer, their riders having issues keeping them walking, his nervousness got worse. I allowed a small trot and miracuously, he trotted with no trouble (sometimes at home he gets ugly about the trot). I asked them to pass us and they did. We slowed back to a walk. Very early in the ride, we came across some wood in a pile and a piece of farm equipment that was to our left near some evergreen trees. Considering the exposure he has had to obstacles and weird things, I would not have thought he'd have cared much. However, I was horribly and utterly wrong. He got very scared, backed up, leaned down, and I knew that had I not dismounted, Whiskey would probably fall on his knees (this happened one other time when I tried to ride out his spooky behavior at horse camp). So, I calmly removed my foot from my right stirrup, swung my right leg over, paused in the position you take when mounting and jsut stood there in the left stirrup, I had a fleeting thought to just remount as he was calmer but, something told me this was a brief moment of sanity and that he was mentally in big trouble. So, I thought better of it and just dismounted (knowing to remount, I needed a block and was not going to be able to get back on--another issue I have to deal with to better my horsemanship--better physical fitness). I must say that Linda Parelli gave me the courage and the knowledge to read my horse and get off, no matter who was around, to put safetyfor my horse and myself first. I cannot thank her enough. Ok, so I proceeded to remove him from the middle of the trail and he went absolutely nuts. I got him off the trail but, as I did, he swung his hips and tried to kick me with his left rear leg and then he struck at me with his left front leg (he missed both times and I immediately got him out of my space using a yo-yo, he was fractious and out of his mind. People were starring at us. After the other riders passed us, some at the end of the line asked if I'd remount and continue and I declined and told them to have a fun time and that we were fine. I hand-walked him for a bit on the trail following the group and then headed back to the trailer. He was dangerous, he was not thinking, he was not being a partner. (FYI--there were horses in the area when we went back to the trailer.)
At the trailer, I allowed him to graze for a bit then removed all of the tack. I tied him for a very brief time but decided that to be safe, I'd just have him in my care on the lead line. I finally decided to just take him home. I was too exhausted to play with him in the arena and I suspected he was too mental to even try. This leads me to tell you that it took 2 hours to get him on the trailer. He was fractious, rearing, swinging around the right side of the trailer, backed into bushes, acted like a lunatic. There was no end to people trying to offer help and each time I declined with a smile and thank you. Whiskey needed time and patience and apparently I have the patience of a saint because I never lost my cool, and when he loaded, he was ready, he stood still for a few minutes, then I put the divider in place, and then I shut the door. I climbed onto the side of the trailer, put his lead in the tie ring, gave him a carrot, and we headed home, both mentally and physically exhausted.

In any event, I was left feeling terrible, sad, depressed, inadequate, like a failure, embarrassed, and the list goes on. I spend an inordinate amount of money on my horse addiction, a ton of time (but I know I need more hands-on time...my schedule has been difficult). I also questioned why I continue to try to proceed down my Parelli path with Whiskey as my levels horse (he became "the one" when I placed Wilbur). Would I ever even get through level 2 with this horse? I know I can get through level 4 but, on what horse? I have Whiskey the gorgeous nut case and Fosse, a beautiful, great horse, with a heart condition. What do I do? I tried hard yesterday to keep my composure in front of the people at the event but, with Clare (on the phone) and Rick (on the phone and in person), I could let go a little and the tears of frustration flowed, my words flowed, but was I making any sense?
I was careful not to get angry with Whiskey, I maintained the tenant of principles before goals, but wow, this is difficult, I just wanted to trail ride--we've done it before, why not here and now? Why can't we seem to translate the games from the ground into riding? Why can't he be in public? He was good at the last play date. I can say that there was tons of stimulation at this event, perhaps he has a threshold of only a few horses? Only a few things? I just don't know. I also can only imagine what the other horse people at the ride were thinking about me, about my horse, and about Parelli. Was I a good example of someone who lives by the Parelli standard? To me, I was, I did what I had to for my horse, but those outside the circle would never understand this, could they? All they saw was a lady with a gorgeous lunatic horse that she could not get on the trailer. The compliments Whiskey got all day were about how pretty he was and then opeople would say things like wow, he is having a bad day. (By the way, when we got home, he was fine, totally calm, and back to being a partner.)

To be honest, I feel frustrated about something in particular. The people at the event rode their horses, had fun, I am happy for them, I really am. But the time I put into my relationship with my horse, I should have too. How can it be that I have all of this knowledge and skill and yet, I am struggling with my horse? I've put years into him! I worry that I looked like an idiot (but I know I am not one)! I want to be a great example of PNH and this is not helping.
I don't want to give up on Whiskey but I also don't want to be stuck in levels limbo forever. I want to progress further. Had Wilbur still been in my life (and he was his own kind of nut job) I'd probably have been through level 4 by now! I know I have it in me but incidents like this make me question everything (rational and not).

So where do I go? The first step is acknowledgment of the good and the bad of yesterday's event and a few other pieces of this puzzle:
The Good
  • I brought a lot of money to the event for the cause.
  • We explored a new place.
  • We practiced tacking up with different tack, several times.
  • We did play on the ground and got in some ride time.
  • I had enough savvy to ensure that neither Whiskey or I was injured on the ground or while riding.
  • Whiskey did not bite me while mounted.
  • My horse did eventually load on the trailer, calmly, and I was able to take him home.
  • Whiskey was fine when we got home.
  • I went back to the event with my dish to pass (and Rick) and didn't just hide at home after this stressful day of humiliation.
  • Fosse is a fun and safe horse who is forgiving. (Not sure about away from the farm, never tried it yet.)
  • Fosse is a potential levels horse for me.
  • I can always acquire another horse.

The Bad

  • Whiskey went extreme RBE which is a bad place for any horse (or human).
  • Whiskey was a danger to himself and others.
  • Whiskey does not seem to be a levels prospect for me if I want to get through the levels in this lifetime (or the next 3-5 years). This is hard to accept. Is it reality or have I not done enough for him to prove himself?
  • Fosse has a medical condition. I can ride him but to what extent is an unknown, can he really be a levels horse?
  • I don't want another horse but I may have to get one. (Do I have the room, time, or devotion in my heart?)
I am not sure what will happen. Here are a few action items on my list:
  • I am not going to quit.
  • I am going to breathe.
  • I am not going to cry.
  • I am going to make a concerted effort to play with the horses every day including some riding.
  • Rick and I are going to assess our facilities and try to get some lighting put up for the darker months to come.
  • I am going to seek out the use of a local indoor arena for the winter months.
  • I will consider a third horse but only if it happens to come my way--no seeking out a horse.
  • A new horse must be a levels prospect, rideable, sane.
  • I will not take in another rescue horse at this time.
  • I will get through level 4 (as Clare would say, "Lord willing and the creek don't rise.")
  • I won't give up on Whiskey but put him on the back-burner, take off the pressure from the both of u regarding levels and official assessments, play dates, trail rides, etc. I will just play at home with him.
  • I will try to use Fosse as my levels horse.

For now, I think the crying and sorrow is gone. Frustration is really not a good word to describe the events yesterday. The appropriate description is that I felt sad that I could not participate the way I wanted to and also felt a terrible and painful sorrow for Whiskey because of his mental state and the fact that I did everything I could but it seems he needed something more. I just don't know what. I do know that most people would never deal with him, everyone I know (including Clare) say they'd never ride him and most people tell me to give up--but I cannot. I know this horse has something to offer, he is worth my time and money, even if he ends up just being a beautiful lawn ornament. In all seriousness, I know he is more than a lawn ornament as we have had successful times together. I just don't know that he is the best horse for what I am trying to accomplish (then again, maybe I am wrong).

Thanks for reading, I am sure I forgot stuff, there is just too much to digest. I needed to at least get this stuff out there. *sigh*


Lisa said...

I am so sorry you are having a difficult time. A few thoughts . . .

Have you thought about nutrition approaches? I don't know what you feed but I've found some very interesting stuff in researching Cricket's headshaking. I've changed a few things in her diet and it seems to be helping her relax and not become so stressed.

I wonder if he didn't have a massive flashback to his show days. All the emotion from all the other horses just sent him to a place where your leadership couldn't reach him. He didn't know it wasn't a show. He didn't know you weren't going to force him into anything. But all those other horses silently screaming for a little understanding and he lost his trust in you. It's hard to keep a connection with a horse experiencing that much anxiety.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is cry. I had to purge out all my doubt, all my frustration and all my hurt. And to just ask for help. I was feeling so alone with all of Cricket's problems. When I just said, "I need help" all of my precious friends offered something. Just to feel loved made everything better.

If you have such a strong feeling about Whiskey then don't give up. Cricket's headshaking has had me over a barrel but I know we can get past it. If you want some of the nutrition information I've learned, email me at ljschultz0730 @ gmail . com (remove spaces) and I'll be happy to share.

Hang in there!

~ Lisa

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Hi Lisa--

Thanks for your feedback and support, it is appreciated!


Anonymous said...

Hi Michelle,
I am sorry you had such a stressfull day with Whiskey at the ride. You did show great emotional fitness and you should be pleased and happy that you are able to deal with the behavior without reverting to predatory actions. Good for you.

Whiskey sounds like he needs an amazing amount of savvy to be able to successfully deal with him. It is great that you are able to keep him and give him a life home but maybe you would be better to look for a 3rd horse to advance your savvy. Get through level 3 and into 4, may give you more skills to deal with Whiskey and his issues.

I understand where you are comming from. I also have ridden my whole life and have spent many years with horses. If you did not have this past experience I think that you wouldn't have gotten as far with him as you have. He is indeed challenging. You have done great with him but maybe you should think of your own journey and let yourself advance more.

Maybe this sounds harsh. I hope not but since you are able to keep 3 why not go for it. :)

L2/3 S

livingwaterfarm said...

Good grief Michelle! I am going to let me husband read this and hope it opens his eyes! He has been pushing me to not baby my horse so much. He wants me to push him and I know that ain't gonna fly. Now my husband does Parelli too but he has a different approach to his horse. I think you did really well handling your horse. You did also recognize the good things and bad things. I think you are well on your way!! Just need to take the time it takes and I've never seen it take longer than two days! Hope this helps!!

Michelle AKA arabhorselover1 said...

Hi Judy--Thanks for your support and kind thoughts. I don't think you sound harsh at all and I appreciate and value your input.

LivingWaterFarm--Do show hubby. You know what is right for your horse. I had a dear friend recommend a strong phase 4 with regards to this situation. I polietly thanked her but also told her that I know, for Whiskey, this would not be good at all (and that he'd probably commit suicide and take me with him--something Clare and I discussed). I know for my horse, backing WAY OFF is the only thing that works.

These horses really do teach us don't they! LOL

Thanks all!

Dawn (from Pa) said...


Hey, I'm so sorry about Whiskey. Like someone else wrote, maybe getting another horse (Lola) and taking her thru level 4, that will give you the savvy to help Whiskey.

I understand how you feel about "everyone one else is having a fun trail ride, why can't I?"

I feel this way all the time. why can't I trail ride Dash like we used to? Why can the little girl at my barn with the nutz barrel horse trail ride but Dash freaks out about the cows along the trail? Why can my mom have such calm trail horses and she doesn't spend anytime with them?

I can say that me being consistate with Dash has helped me a bunch. Now, I haven't trail rode her yet, infact, I haven't even ridden her. I want to get the liberty down pat before I even think about riding her.

Anyway, I'm rambling on. I think that you will have a wonderful time with Lola. Good luck!